For twenty years, one hundred eighty three days, eleven hours, and somewhere in between sixteen and seventeen minutes, I was oppressed. I was denied. I was restricted. First, it was the squadron of women uniformed in tall high-water pants and floral blouses who took charge. Then, it was the dictatorial duo who were supposed to be responsible for me. And eventually, it became nothing more than the sincere the lack of opportunity that stagnated my progress. This restriction, this oppression left my development in shambles so much so that to this day—in spite of the high-water wearing elementary school teacher’s best attempts at enriching my vocabulary—I have absolutely no idea what to call the object of my longing but “paper-cutter thingies.”
I’m talking about the ones that can cut through any paper, ignorant of systems of classification and irrefutably averse to any flavor of discrimination; each one is defined by a flat bed of steel, lying calmly, providing an open invitation for any paper that may happen to stumble in that direction. I could hear that teasing invitation for years. I could hear the sharp, crisp sound as each microscopic carbon bond holding the threads of the paper together were ripped apart by the sleek blade. I could hear that noise, but not once was I allowed to be a part of that experience. And, I hated it.
Yesterday, I was relieved of my anguish. Since the days of rolling rollie-pollies across the cracked asphalt of the elementary school playgrounds, I had been waiting for this moment. I finally got to use my beloved paper-cutter thingy. And for a moment, I got to experience the magic of childhood. The free energy, the recklessness, the pure, unfiltered fun, it was all coming back to me as a I chopped a piece of simple white paper in half; then one of the half’s into a quarter; then one of the quarters into an eighth, and I continued until I had to reach for more paper. It was stupid. It was childish. But, sure as hell, it was pure.
And, that is what Peop1e is. This organization was founded because we were stupid. We were stupid enough to believe that we could make a difference. We were stupid enough to believe that a small group of guys who spent hours sitting alongside chain-linked fences after basketball practice could do something. We were stupid enough to believe that the issues that mattered to us might matter to others as well.
Quite simply, that is how all this began. We had a simple message: Recognize the whole human race as one. When your brother suffers, you suffer. When he succeeds, you succeed. Once we realize that, it becomes natural to accept the responsibility to stand up, to take action, and to demand injustice fought against both internally and externally. In our own community, we saw racial and ethnic discrimination hiding right below the surface of an otherwise docile South-Asian immigrant community. This hate though, this misunderstanding, this ignorance was met with the silent approval of too many, so we took a stand. We did not know what to do or how to do it, but we knew that we had to—that it mattered.Without any funding or any supporters, we went out and printed shirts with a simple message: Character > Caste. Trusting in the message of unity, of equality, of justice, we put ourselves out there. And, sometimes, all we need is a simple reminder—reading a simple message, making one small decision, reflecting on some weak thought; each and every one of these things can not only change the course of your day but even the course of your life. The possibilities are endless but it begins by getting the message out there, and by buying a shirt, you aren’t supporting a business. You are supporting an ideal, a cause. In reality, you are supporting hope—hope that we can spread this message, hope that we can reach people, hope that we can make a difference.
We began as four college students who poured their time, money, and effort into pushing this dream along. This dream has put a dent in our wallets, its demanded days and days of our time, and it definitely took a couple of jabs at my GPA. But, the support we have gotten from people is what keeps me going. Personally, my writing, my work, my focus is on bringing about change. Every blogpost I have written is directed to myself first because that is where change begins—within you. We have all heard the wise words: Be the change you want to see. This is our opportunity to live up to that advice, right now in 2011. We find ourselves at a time where ignorance runs rampant and hate shades the little knowledge that we do hold. The amount of struggle and conflict in the world is overwhelming, the death tolls unimaginable. At a certain point, lives that were lost turn into simply numbers. And in the midst of this chaos, we often find ourselves losing hope. We lose hope in our ability to make a difference. We lose hope in our ability to reach people. We lose hope in ourselves.
That is where we must begin—giving ourselves a reason to hope. To get out there and do something, we have to start by informing ourselves. We have to learn
about the issues. And, we have to think. Until we reach a level of self-reflection where we know what we believe and why we do so, our actions and our words hold no value. The failure to acknowledge the necessity of not only acquiring knowledge but practicing wisdom is the chief facilitator of hate, of discrimination, and of oppression.
During the next few weeks, we will be focusing on spreading awareness about discrimination and hate crimes and at the local level, we are hoping that planting the seeds of dialogue will help develop activism and understanding within our communities. Moving forward, we hope to establish a model for others to follow in setting up similar events in engaging their own communities and tackling the issues each community faces at a local level. If you’re interested in getting involved, please post on the fanpage and we’ll add you to the Peop1e outreach team that will be launching soon.
And as activists, it is important we recognize why we do what we do. Our videos, our shirts, and even our blogs often come with a message—be it one of change, of understanding, or even unification—but, as we stand up to the shadow set by the evils that hold us down, it is important to recognize that our goal is not to overcome every shortcoming in one broad sweeping act but to make change, small change. If two hundred thousand people watch a video and even one of those viewers is inspired to do something,we have accomplished more than enough. If a blogpost read by hundreds changes even one person’s day, then it is effective. And, if four college students inspire even one person to believe in him or herself, to believe in unity, and to believe in hope, then Peop1e will be a success.
We have to learn that about ourselves. We have to learn that sometimes our actions are not defined by how much change we bring about, but simply by if we bring about change. None of us has to change the world. None of us has to destroy hate or alleviate ignorance but if we find it within ourselves to do so for just one person, the world would probably be a better place. So, after you’re done reading this post or even hitting the like button or leaving a comment, make that promise to yourself. Make a promise to do something today to make a small difference in someone else’s life. Do it today. And when you do so, you’ll find yourself experiencing another warm, fuzzy emotion that many of us might have forgotten since the days of our childhoods—hope.
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